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7 tips for better email marketing

It pains me the amount of crap emails I receive. So many are just a big image, an entire shopping catalog or the email version of war and peace. It's crap marketing and a terrible user experience. I don't believe it is people's fault though. Email is kind of dorky.

Email is a funny thing. It isn't sexy like social, it isn't as cool as SEO or as new and flashy as remarketing/retargeting. It is digital marketing's old ugly duckling that never managed to grow into a swan - and as a result it is disregarded as an effective/interesting channel by many people. However the value of a well implemented email campaign is unparalleled by any other digital marketing campaign.

Of all the digital marketing channels to your website email is only one you own and have complete control over. Google can change its algorithm and cause your search traffic to plummet and Facebook for web traffic is moody and unreliable at the best of times, and your posts never reach all the people that like your page unless you pay (lame!). Why should you pay to reach people that have already opted in to be engaged with your brand?

You own your email marketing, you own your list and you set the rules. With email you can contact exactly who you want when you want - you have unparalleled access to your lists with timeliness that other channels can not offer. Email is as good as you make it and it is up to you to make it great.

Email marketing is my area of expertise and a passion of mine. So stop sending crap mail and learn to be awesome. Here are some lesser known tips to help you master the basics of good email marketing and put you on the path of email awesomeness.

1) Never, ever, ever buy lists

Seriously never buy a list. I can not stress this enough. Never buy a list. It is stupid. Every company that emails me something generic that I haven't given permission to I immediately report as spam. Also my first interaction with said company is really negative. It leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Do you want people to hate you from the moment you say hello to them? No. Good. Don't buy lists. It isn't good marketing and the legality is also questionable.

Instead - Build your own mailing list. If people are asking you to send them emails you are going to get a much better response than if you spam them.

2) Don't manually handle opt-outs

You would not believe how prevalent this is. I recently unsubscribed from about 40 different mailing lists (because they were uninformative or irrelevant). I was really surprised by the number of times I was met by a message notifying me that my opt out request will be handled in 2 - 3 weeks. WEEKS! That is ridiculous! How can email platforms that provide this kind of service exist and be paid for? Not only did I keep receiving emails from the same organisations after I opted out, I had to go on and opt out a further three times.

Advice - If your current system does this please call the provider and tell them they suck, you want out, and then sign up with MailChimp.

3) Don't be irrelevant - Stop sending everything to everyone on your list

We have a saying at work - every time we have to push send on an email to the whole list we have failed at marketing. For example, have you ever been subscribed to a daily deals website? I got several emails a day from one of them. I wouldn't have minded if it was relevant to me, but it wasn't. The funny thing is they had all my details. They know I am a mid to late twenties male. They know exactly who I am and what I buy and yet they keep sending me deals for leg waxing and day spas - multiple times a day. I am not your target market, I'm not going to buy.

Don't be lazy, segment your database and send content that is relevant to that segment even if it means sending to a smaller amount of people. Would someone in Texas want to know about events happening in South Australia? No. Will the people in Texas spend money on the South Australian events? No. So why would you waste your time emailing people about stuff they don't care about or is irrelevant to them?

4) If people aren't opening your emails, don't send them as many emails

This is moving more into Email Marketing 201: Behavioral Marketing, however I think you are ready for it. Most email systems will record when people open an email (if yours does not please refer to my advice in point 2). Use this brilliant piece of information to your advantage. What percentage of your list hasn't opened an email from you in 6 months? Try not sending them general emails and try a re-engagement campaign. If you have daily email updates like Hubspot, R-bloggers or Social Media Examiner try automatically changing them to a lower frequency option. This can help in three ways a) it could reduce your email send costs, b) lower the risk of being flagged as spam and c) lower your opt outs - because the worst thing someone can do to you in email marketing is opting out of your emails. I would always prefer to send someone less emails than no emails.

Pro tip - Every opt out kills an email fairy. Don't willingly contribute to the mass murder of the email fairies.

5) Never rely on images to load

Generally emails open and then the images are loaded. Some email clients block images from loading all together. If all the content of your emails is in images you run the risk of people not seeing anything. Images in email are fine, just do not rely on them to get your message across. Someone opening an email of yours is a gift from them, you having essentially a blank email is taking that gift and then stomping on it. Don't be that person. Below is a few examples to drive my point home.

I always wanted to read all the terms and conditions.

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I guess there is no best sellers for 2014. That is a shame.

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Pokemon is not even trying here - at least use alt text.

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Advice - At least use alt text. Don't go sending blanks.

6) Don't send me your life story in an email - keep it brief

There seems to be a trend at the moment to send long plain text emails as marketing. I like the change for the norm and I do think that people not as cynical as me would think that this "personally written" email is a nice touch. Which it is. I like most of what is happening here except that some people take it to the extremes. Below is an email I received not to long ago. I am pretty sure the idea behind it was to try something new, however I never read an entire email from this series as each one was the email version of "War and Peace". Keep it clear and concise. If your content is good people will go to your website.

So to take the screenshots for this email I zoomed my browser out to 25% and took as much of the screen as possible. Six screen shots later and I still hadn't covered the entire email.

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7) Outlook is the devil and will destroy your emails given the opportunity - so test often

In case you don't already know, Outlook is terrible at rendering HTML emails. It is probably the biggest reason that coding HTML emails is so old school. If something in the code is slightly wrong it can completely destroy your email's layout. I am required to use Outlook for work and I see this all the time. You would be amazed by the number of really savvy companies that still send emails that break in Outlook i.e. Google. It pains me that I don't have any examples for this, however please take my advice. Update - see the image below for a broken email example from Google. Take the time and test your emails at least in Outlook before sending it (or better yet test in Litmus or Email on Acid), otherwise it just looks terrible and all the impact it once had will be lost as people wonder what the heck is going on.

Someone didn't proof this email in outlook before sending it.

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I hope these tips were valuable and start you on your journey to better email marketing. If there is something you think I missed or didn't talk enough about please leave a comment below.

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